The Very Best Books I Read in 2014

Every year, I try to narrow down the hundred plus books I have recommended or read down to just the three or four best. I know that people are busy, and most of you don’t have time to read as much as you’d like. There’s absolutely no shame in that–what matters is that you make the time you can and that you pick the right books when you do. In 2014, I personally read a lot. Most of the books weren’t new releases and strangely compared to 2013, fewer books towered above the others. That made selecting this list a little harder but that didn’t mean there weren’t some potential life-changing standouts. There were plenty.

Before I get into those books, I wanted to share something I’m incredibly proud of this year: I was able to collaborate on a print with one of my artistic heroes, Joey Roth (I’ve written about him a lot). The very limited print is available here and is based on the stoic ideas in my book The Obstacle Is The Way. Here’s a post I wrote with some more background. Can’t wait for you to see it.

Now, to the books!

The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith
I was heartily recommend this book by Dr. Drew and since the last book he recommended changed my life as a young man, I did not hesitate to get it. Now this is a tough book, a really tough book, but it is amazing. People think of Adam Smith as being this ruthless economist who studied self-interest but this forgotten book reveals that he was in fact, a great moral and practical philosopher. It is clear to me that Smith was profoundly influenced by the Stoics and by the great classic thinkers of history. Intimidated? Well, good news! It turns out Penguin published a new book this year called How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts and it happens to be an eminently accessible access point into Theory of Moral Sentiments. (In fact, I liked both so much, I am buying copies to send as a package to a handful of close friends) I hope you pick up either book and I hope its deep thoughts on the pursuit of fame, of money, and of course, his concept of the “indifferent spectator” to guide your actions, make you think as much as they did for me.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
Wow, did you know that Moby Dick was based on a true story? There was a real whaling ship that was broken in half by an angry sperm whale. But it gets even more insane. The members of the crew escaped in three lifeboats, traveling thousands of miles at sea with little food and water until they slowly resorted to cannibalism(!) Besides being an utterly unbelievable story, this book also gives a great history into the whaling industry and the cowboys/entrepreneurs who led it. Definitely recommend and I promise my spoilers did not ruin anything. Another great narrative nonfiction out this year that I hope you’ll like is: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. Cheryl Strayed, also the author of Wild, was the anonymous columnist behind the online column, Dear Sugar and boy, are we better off for it. This is not a random smattering of advice. This book contains some of the most cogent insights on life, pain, loss, love, success, youth that I have ever seen. I won’t belabor the point: read this book. Thank me later. Anne Lamott’s book is ostensibly about the art of writing, but really it too is about life and how to tackle the problems, temptations and opportunities life throws at us. Both will make you think and both made me a better person this year.

Some Others:
Of course, I cannot stop at three (or four). I read both of Sam Sheridan’s books A Fighter’s Heart and A Fighter’s Mind this year and they are both spectacular. Don’t be put off by the subject matter. They are good. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics was something I reread and cannot recommend highly enough. In terms of big biographies, Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington, Eric Romm’s biography of Seneca Dying Every Day (LOVED THIS) and Edmund Morris’ final biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Col. Roosevelt were all worth every page. If you want a full list of what I learned reading in 2014, well, I put that together too.

So, thank you again for subscribing to this newsletters. It’s been an immense pleasure chatting with you, all 35,000 of you, this year. I hope you had a great 2014 and an even better year of reading in 2015.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.